Sunday, September 02, 2007

Jonathan Livinston Chekhov

For the past hundred years, the prime playwritght anywhere has been Anton Chekhov.

I marked this down since I dabble in plays, certainly Chekhov's short stories, which are equally fine.

So what to do?

All the writing how-to books used to say, "emulate Chekhov".

So how to you tamp an Anglo-Saxon, who takes his pleasure sadly into the character of a dysfunctional Russian?

I am not an Anglo-Saxon, but I am anglicized--totally

Makes me sort of a Chekhovian figure.

Well, I figured, Use what ya got.

So I wrote a totally Chekhovian story, basing it on "The Lady With the Dog."

Back comes the rejection. Seems the story was a dog.

Rejected. Me? God's chosen? After spending thirty years cultivating the editor? (Little did I know that the House of Anansi Press was under a takeover and all my friends were gone...Should have kept up with things).

In any event, Rejection.

You mean I spend all these years aping the best, sometimes copying the best, and I get rejected?

Chekhov rejected? WTF. I had copied as well as I could.

If they reject Chekhov, what chance do my poor screeds have?

And yet, and yet, do I ever dig the man. Gets me right where I live.

Sample: Opener of The Seagull:

Money's not the point. A man can be poor and happy.
In theory, yes, but in practice...there's myself, and my mother, and two sisters, and a small brother; but my salary is just twenty-three ubles. One has to eat and drink. Do we need tea and sugar? Can I do without tobacco? Well, that's how you pinch and scrape.
Oh how we pensioners know these things!

But why was my story rejected? I got it straight from the horse's mouth! I mean, this is where I live.
Chekhov Country.

They say mere talent borrows. Genius steals.

I am a genius, Martha, I tell my wife.

"Okay genius, the hall needs vacuuming.

"And hike up your pants, genius...And I'm tired of picking up after you."


H.E. Eigler, a blogger I find somehow inspiring to other writers, once wrote to me when I had been unexpectedly rejected on a story of my own. "You have to use a little ingenuity, you have to figure out how to open the door again..."
She was right, and I sold a story.

But this time it's different. I am copying Chekhov and I am in a rut about it. I cleverly disguised my story, but how can you embellish on the master?

Oh God.

I have developped some sort of Turette's Syndrome over Chekhov. I cannot stop copying him.

So here I go again,

IT was said that a new person had appeared on the sea-front: a lady with a little dog. Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov, who had by then been a fortnight at Yalta, and so was fairly at home there, had begun to take an interest in new arrivals. Sitting in Verney's pavilion, he saw, walking on the sea-front, a fair-haired young lady of medium height, wearing a béret; a white Pomeranian dog was running behind her.

And afterwards he met her in the public gardens and in the square several times a day. She was walking alone, always wearing the same béret, and always with the same white dog; no one knew who she was, and every one called her simply "the lady with the dog."

"If she is here alone without a husband or friends, it wouldn't be amiss to make her acquaintance," Gurov reflected.

He was under forty, but he had a daughter already twelve years old, and two sons at school. He had been married young, when he was a student in his second year, and by now his wife seemed half as old again as he. She was a tall, erect woman with dark eyebrows, staid and dignified, and, as she said of herself, intellectual. She read a great deal, used phonetic spelling, called her husband, not Dmitri, but Dimitri, and he secretly considered her unintelligent, narrow, inelegant, was afraid of her, and did not like to be at home. He had begun being unfaithful to her long ago -- had been unfaithful to her often, and, probably on that account, almost always spoke ill of women, and when they were talked about in his presence, used to call them "the lower race."

It seemed to him that he had been so schooled by bitter experience that he might call them what he liked, and yet he could not get on for two days together without "the lower race." In the society of men he was bored and not himself, with them he was cold and uncommunicative; but when he was in the company of women he felt free, and knew what to say to them and how to behave; and he was at ease with them even when he was silent. In his appearance, in his character, in his whole nature, there was something attractive and elusive which allured women and disposed them in his favour; he knew that, and some force seemed to draw him, too, to them.

My take on The Lady With the Dog.
They rejected Chekhov! The dastards!



Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

Afternoon Ivan,

I do not know much ... heh. But rejection is sort of like a knife wound and with each new rejection, a new turn of the knife. But you knew that, right?

I say to heck with them all. Write what as you please, and if they still reject you ... well then, turn, smile at them, and one day they will know what they have turned away.

Soft love,

benjibopper said...

hope i wasn't too blunt on your last post. you asked for honesty but sometimes i have trouble combining that with tact.

as for russians and fiction, that combination just works - even trotsky said so. i love russian writers, regardless of form or genre. they master the art of glibness. except dostoevsky, couldn't get into him.

tara's making a lot of sense here. if you're going to get rejected, may as well be for your own stuff eh?

btw i was reading joseph conrad recently and thinking to myself as i did so, 'this stuff would never be published today.' tastes change. said...

No worries.
On the submission, it was just something I tried to see if it would work.
Probably comes from the days when I was a rewrite man at the Star.

Lots of stuff totally my own.
But it's kind of new.
You can only be uset over certain proscribed things in Canada.
And since the money comes from government and not book sales--well, you can see the result.
It's a good thing I got all my novels out while I had the big bucks--by hook or by crook.

Ivan said...


I had had many an author's grant after having my earlier work okayed by Anansi Press.
It's just that there was a turnover of staff and everybody was replaced.
Talk about rewriting!
The guy who beat me out did a a rewrite of Robert De Niro's "The Deerhunter" and collected $50,000.
...Talk about a cannibalistic business!


TomCat said...

Ivan, I'm sorry to hear about your rejection and the changes at your publisher. I'm afraid all I could to do to improve your day is to improve your Technorati rating by one link. I added you to my blogroll. said...


Hey, as they say in Newfoundland, that't better than a kick in the face!


leslie said...

waddayagonnado? said...

I went to Wal-Mart and got a rope.

But since it was made offshore by incompetents--it broke.


eric1313 said...

There's a fantastic Raymond Carver story about the death of Chekhov called "Errand". In it everything was condensed at the end of the story to the bellhop and Chekhov's mistress talking at length about flower arrangements, and cleaning up the floor of the hotel room--culminating with a champaigne cork that the bellhop just kept feelng compulsed to pick up off the floor, and finally, he did.

Cleaning up the mess left by the passing of life.

Sad and strange, but a good story, never the less.

I haven't sent out in years. Gun shy, some would say. I once fot a rejection letter that was about six hundred words long, and all of them trashing every aspecty of the story I submited.

I figured the man was jealous over my twenty five year old audacity to write a story of a modern Salome dancing for the death of her hated former love, a Baptist preacher named John. He really dug into everything. I figured he was a frustrated writer--why else was he an editor, except for the fact that he couldn't write to save his soul from oblivion?

eric1313 said...

damn misspellings...

I always do that.

I spend more time looking at my keyboard than the screen.

Yep. A writer who doesn't know how to type...

I'm not alone, I imagine. Besides, as I used to have written in my profile, "I was not born to be a spellchecker, but you are welcome to check my spelling for me. I have better things to do."

After awhile, I changed it--seemed to put people off... don't know why...

Josie said...

They rejected "Chekhov", but did they reject Prokopchuk? Didn't Shakespeare say,

"This above all: to thine ownself be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."

A poor imitation is just that - a poor imitation.

You, Ivan, are an original. Don't imitate or emulate anyone. You have an original masterpiece inside of you. And I somehow think that these folks that these experiences that you have had in the blogging world are part of that masterpiece. Where else on earth would you have found a cast of characters like us???? We are your book. You have read enough craziness on our blogs by now. Weave it together and write about it.

Josie said...

Wonderful stuff, everybody.

But I somehow collided with full pitcher of double strenght beer.

I lost.

Will try to comment on all your great input as soon as I am able to put a sentence together.

Cheech and Chong: Dave's not home!

"...Sure cops come when you call them. Let me demonstrate, HEY PIG."

Ivan hit over the head by big beer head.

Doing a doormouse.

Sienna said...

Rejection bah humbug...they the greater fool..

You write beautifully...and no matter what subject it is always-always rivetting.

I'm rivetted.

Your books cause great reaction and emotion...

You only need to be heard in the right place-right time...we must be getting closer.

The people that get to reject...I'm sorry, and I really don't like offending people, but they have small worlds, small minds.

Rejectors open up your hearts and minds and let the world in...takes a lot of time and breaks a lot of hearts to see an idea through...

Open up your heart, it's a start...:)

Kepp writing Ivan, it's in your soul.


Sienna said...

Actually, I love this about Chekhov:

*A tree is beautiful, but what’s more, it has a right to life; like water, the sun and the stars, it is essential. Life on earth is inconceivable without trees. Forests create climate, climate influences peoples’ character, and so on and so forth. There can be neither civilization nor happiness if forests crash down under the axe, if the climate is harsh and severe, if people are also harsh and severe.... What a terrible future!*
Letter to A.S. Suvorin, by Anton Chekhov.. (October 18, 1888)

Kinda nothing to do with anything...but so pertinent to here in my sparsely tree populated world..:) (side issue).

the walking man said...

Who's Checkov?

Write porn I hear that always sells.


TWM said...


That's fascinating about Chekhov's last days. He had always had a long-distance relationship with his wife (Olga?) and (certainly in his younger days) not above going to Hertz Rent-a-hooker. I find your
biographical excerpt especially fascinating because, in a parallel universe the same thing seemed to happen to an Italian-Canadian touristfamily in Mexico recently.

Yeah, jealousy. Your script reader must have been one jealous cuss.
Happpens all the time.

Some years ago, I established myself as a columnist out this way, writing for TOPIC magazine.
At a publisher's party, some matrons came to my publisher and said good things about my work.
Said the publisher, who, I think, wash sharpening a miniature hatchet, "Hm. Ivan good?
"We don't think so."
Jealousy is a pretty common emotion. Also a deadly sin, says The Big Book.
But who of us is entirely free of it?
There are times I envy other people's royalties.

Ivan said...


I am a fast typer, but not terribly accurate either.

"Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the glatz."

See? said...

Open up my heart indeed.
Got some bittersweet news from my family.
But at least the family seems to be drawing together.
Thanks, mate.

Ivan said...

Talk about a man ahead of his timne! Prescient, that Chekhov. He was, of course, a doctor, and he knew things.

Chekhov's tree quotes are in full line of today's ecological movement.
Take that, Al Gore!

Ivan said...

The Walking Man,

I got a bit of sexual philosophy here and there in my work.
In fact, some of the humour may be sort of tongue-in-cheek, ne c'est pas? :)

Ivan said...

Thank you.

I'll take it to heart.

Some nineteenth century English essayist seemed to say it right on:
Envy is ignorance, and imitation is suicide.
Well. :)
Thanks again for the appreciation.


Anonymous said...

Five coffees and great comments seem to lighten one's mood.

Does anybody else notice the uncanny resemblance of Anton Chekhov to guitarist Eric Clapton?



Josie said...

Ivan, you're right. Eric Clapton and Chekhov have exactly (exactly!) the same face, and expression.

Hmmmmm. said...

Both extremely able people.

And Mr. Clapton seems an intellectual as well, judging by the way he expresses himself in documentaries.
Certainly a master of music.


Josie said...

You know, Ivan, I wasn't kidding about taking some of the material from the blogs and turning it into your book. I don't mean the material, necessarily, but you have to admit that you had met some characters out there in the blogosphere. I can name a few who visit here. And they are all such individuals. I mean, we are really nothing more to each other than words on a computer monitor, but - and here's the thing - we really aren't. Look at the list:
TomCat, just to name a few.

Name me one thing about them that is the same as the others. They are all different, colorful, rich characters. We're all wonderful friends with each other, we all interact differently with each other, we all recognize each other's voices, and yet - WE HAVE NEVER MET.

I just know there's a book in this. You've got to write it. If I could write, I would do it.

EA Monroe said...

Good evening, Ivan! Josie is right and I'm with her. I hope everything is okay with your family.

Josie, in a way we all seem to be part of a "like minded community."

It's the Age of Aquarius. ;-)

Liz said...


It can be done.
I've seen people do it.

R.J. Baker (You still out there, Robert?) did a wonderful spoof of me, then of a literary blogger named Bernita, another scribbler, Erik Ivan James, E.A. Monroe and a Ms.Hill.
Granted , it was in blog form, and it was funny as the dickens, but it had been done.

The idea you suggest seems highly publishable to me--in "treeware" if you will.
But it will take mucn research and some imagination.

Ah Josie, you say you are not a writer, but you write so effortlessly and so surely that I feel the hand of a painter besides a hell of a good talker. You could easily do it.
Myself, I think I'd lean on a Mr. Borges. I can't find the story, but he one day envisaged a society where all the world was sort of a blog world and people would be talking out of little boxes, some sibilant in their speech, others booming, still others sounding very feminine. This is eerily close to some kind of Frankenstinian thing, maybe Cabalistic, and maybe it's the wrong way to go.
It is certainly one hell of a good idea and the bee is somewhat noisily
humming around in my bonnet.

Ivan said...

p.s. to Josie and Liz,

A newcomer to our community, eric1313 adds still one more flavor to our klatch.
He seems to combine the qualities of young Trevor Record, of Dwight, another newcomer, and somehow, Tara.
Quark and Pentaquarkhood is growing all the time.
I like Trevor and Dwight and Eric; they are young luminaries somehow, and they are certainly welcome here.
Yes a book on our gang is certainly possible.
But a professional attitude must apply, and, lazy, hedonistic type that I have come to be--it seems I'd ratheer think it than do it.
So we must apply discipline.

Heh. My wife once beat me with guitar strings, but I didn't much like it. :)

Ivan said...


I forgot Benjibopper, The Walking Man and quite a few others.


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